From palace to paradise: discover Cambodia’s must-see sights

Cambodia is truly the Kingdom of Wonder, with breathtaking jungles, tropical island beaches, temples steeped in history and modern, bustling cities. We pick out five of the country’s must-see sights

Angkor Wat

It’s easy to see why Angkor Wat is a source of great national pride in Cambodia. Set among lush forests in Siem Reap province, the ancient sandstone structure was the apogee of the mighty Khmer Empire. Marvel at the temple’s towers and bas-reliefs depicting epic Hindu battles before taking a minute to bask in the mystical aura pervading its peaceful inner sanctum. Unlike similar attractions across the world, the temple is still very much a living entity, with saffron-robed monks leading prayers on a daily basis.

Tuol Sleng and Killing Fields

While Cambodia has enjoyed relative peace since the early 1990s, the spectre of the murderous Khmer Rouge regime continues to linger like a dark cloud over the country’s economic, social and political development. Visiting both Phnom Penh’s Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum – a high school-turned-detention centre – and the Choeung Ek killing fields on the outskirts of the capital is a difficult but crucial first step toward understanding the horrors of the country’s past.

Floating villages

The beating heart of Cambodia’s floodplain agriculture, the shimmering expanse of the Tonle Sap is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia and the source of 60% of Cambodia’s protein intake. Thousands also call it home. One of many scenic floating villages found on the lake close to Siem Reap is Chong Kneas, where families make a living from breeding fish in the water underneath the bamboo rafts upon which their houses sit.

Royal Palace

Presiding over the confluence of the Tonle Sap, Bassac and Mekong rivers in Phnom Penh, the resplendent serenity of the Royal Palace stands in stark contrast to the crowds shuffling along the nearby waterfront. The majestic mustard yellow stupas, tiered Khmer pagoda roofs and ornate gildings offer but a glimpse of the grandeur open to the public. The main attraction is the throne hall, which is topped by a 59-metre-high tower inspired by the Bayon temple at Angkor and used for coronations and official ceremonies.

The islands

Just a one-hour ferry ride from the southern party town of Sihanoukville lies the tropical haven of Koh Rong Samloem. A sanctuary of white beaches, unfettered jungle and turquoise waters, the island is the perfect spot to sling up a hammock and while away the afternoon. It’s also but one of many Cambodian islets waiting to be explored off the coast. Arguably no trip to Cambodia is complete without a few days experiencing laid-back life on the Kingdom’s scenic isles.

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